CARACAS – Venezuela’s recently-elected National Constituent Assembly, tasked with drafting a new constitution, began on Tuesday a session to define its functions after having taken over the Parliament building, and prohibiting lawmakers of the opposition-controlled legislature elected in late 2015 from entering the legislative headquarters.
The more than 500 constitutional assembly members, in their second plenary session since they were installed in “office,” will discuss their new powers, which include revamping the structure of the state and writing a new national charter, tasks in which no other public authorities may oppose them.
The members will also discuss a measure to “support” President Nicolas Maduro “against the attacks ... organized from abroad and particularly by the US government,” the assembly declared at the beginning of the session.
In addition, the assembly began debating a bill establishing a so-called “Truth and Peace Commission” promised by Maduro during the campaign leading up to the election of the assembly-members with an eye toward “seeing justice done” for the victims of the violence that has erupted during the wave of anti-government protests beginning on April 1, violence he blames on the opposition.
Maduro, former foreign minister and current constitutional assembly president Delcy Rodriguez and assembly member Diosdado Cabello, one of the most powerful figures in the Chavista government, have pushed for the Truth Commission to end what they call the “impunity” that has prevailed in the country during the wave of protests.
Maduro has said that some of the opposition leaders who convened protests against his government in recent months will go to jail, given that he considers them responsible for the violent disturbances that have beset the country.
Earlier on Tuesday, Bolivarian National Guard troops prevented opposition lawmakers from entering the Venezuelan Federal Legislative Palace, which government supporters have seized.
“They’re not letting us enter the Federal Legislative Palace. This government is invading the spaces that it has not been able to win legitimately,” said lawmaker Stalin Gonzalez, the head of the opposition majority faction, comprising two-thirds of the seats in the National Assembly.
The National Constituent Assembly, elected a little over a week ago in a controversial vote receiving about half the votes cast to elect the regular Parliament, took control of the legislative headquarters although the body is based on having powers that are plenipotentiary and unquestioned by any other authorities.
Opposition lawmakers, who were intending to hold a session on Tuesday to discuss the country’s ongoing crisis, said that the soldiers and violent civilian groups linked to the government, the latter known as “collectives,” prevented them from entering the building and forced them to leave the area.
“They are acting like criminals, they came during the night, in the darkness and took over the Palace,” lawmaker Jorge Millan told journalists referring to the takeover by military security chief Col. Bladimir Lugo of one of the parliamentary chambers used by the body.
“We showed up here today, but access was impossible due to the conditions existing around the entrance of the Federal Palace,” Millan said.
Nevertheless, he said that on Wednesday the legislators will meet in the National Assembly “defending the mandate” to which they were elected by a broad majority of Venezuela’s voters.
Constitutional assembly member Diosdado Cabello had publicly warned that the newly-selected body would have the guardianship of the Federal Legislative Palace and that, of course, its authorization would be required for any activity.
So far, both assemblies had coexisted in the same Palace, with the government-supporting constitutional assembly members installed in the north wing and the opposition members in the south wing.